My Fight for Air Stair Climbing Race Report
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The task was to try and climb up this

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and we were up to the task

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On Saturday March 23rd, a group of 11 from Scottrade’s Running/Walking Club stood at the bottom floor of the tallest building in St. Louis, MO… The Metropolitan building at One Metropolitan Square. They had voluntarily committed to attempting to climb up 40 floors in the stairwell of the building to both benefit the American Lung Association and to prove to themselves that they could do something pretty amazing! In the end, we raised $1375 and that is pretty awesome.

Our team captain had scheduled twice weekly training sessions four weeks out from the race and I found them to be hard but very productive workouts.I really enjoyed how they worked your muscles in a different and serious way and also were hard anaerobic training. The first week we only did 24 floors on Monday and then 30 floors on Wednesday (6 floors up and then the elevator down) but even though I was in reasonably good shape, my hamstrings were super sore after those two sessions. I knew that I was working my muscles in a different way and that it would help me with other sports. I think we really had fun during those training sessions and we all got to know associates within the company that we might not have met otherwise. Team members came from 3 different buildings. I eventually worked up to doing 66 floors one session and felt good about that. It felt like a great workout and made me feel that (even though there were breaks with the elevator ride down) that I could probably do 42 straight.

Many of us showed up for the practice run at the Met a few weeks before the race and I have to admit that when I as at the bottom floor waiting for the volunteer to give me the go ahead to start climbing (they have us wait 10 seconds between each runner to keep the stairwell less congested.. and I will say it helped a lot on race day) I was a bit nervous! I mean.. like everyone I have gotten winded in years past going up 4 flights of stairs.. but I felt like if I paced myself and got into a groove that I would be ok. I really enjoyed that practice run and was glad that I did it because it gave me a good feeling for what the run would be like. There were two things that were interesting (and unexpected) from the practice run. One was that the stairs were metal and hollow and this actually gave them a bit of bounce that helped propel you up a bit. This was nice and I thought that we could use this. The other was that at floor 19 you had to take a right turn, run down a hall and then get back up to another stairwell to continue the climb. This was actually fun during the practice run! It allowed for a bit of variety and felt a bit good to loosen the legs up. This wasn’t the same experience during the actual race.. but I will write about that shortly. I then finished up the last stairwell and felt good about not having had to stop to rest at any point and was actually significantly surprised that it stopped at floor 40. For some reason I thought that it stopped at the very top floor 42 but was told when I asked that it was because the restaurant at the top (Kemoll’s) didn’t like what the race did to that floor. To be honest.. it was kind of odd but at the time (for maybe 5 seconds) I found that disappointing. Then I very quickly came to my senses and was happy that we didn’t have to do those extra two floors! I finished in 8:57 and felt good about that. I thought that on race day I could go faster but I didn’t know how much faster.

I looked at previous years race results and found that 8:15 tended to give a pretty good overall placing so I thought I would shoot for that. At the time it seemed like kind of a stretch because that is a pretty significant percentage decrease but I had to have some time to shoot for.

The last training session that I did was the Monday before the race. I considered this to be my taper week so I only wanted to do 24 floors but I also wanted to use this session as a chance to see how long it took me to do 6 floors going at a fast pace (and how I felt at the top). I averaged 35 – 40 seconds for those 6 floors and was really working hard. I knew that I could not sustain that pace for 40 floors (and that overall pace would have also put me in the top 10.. so I think my feelings on it being too fast were justified) so it gave me the opportunity to know what pace was too fast at the race. I thought of doing about 6 floors in 60 seconds for the race.

So the morning came and I woke up at a reasonable hour (I think 6:30am) because our groups start time was 9:42am. I relaxed, had some breakfast and got ready. We were meeting at a St. Louis Bread Company near the Met because we thought it would be easier to find each other and also to be able to sit and relax a bit before the race. This was nice and a good way to start the race day. It was at this point that to be honest I got reasonably nervous. Not scared that I couldn’t do it or worried about the pain, but the good type of nervous (which you should have a bit of before a race) where I had this goal in mind and I didn’t know if I could hit it. I was one edge, nervous system primed and ready to race!

Shown below is an officer getting ready to race! He was in full uniform (and even armed) and was going to climb this thing! They also had firefighters doing it (some in half uniform and some in full gear with their tank and everything.. they had to climb with the regulator in their mouth…. WOW!) They all had their own division and it was super inspiring to see this.

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We all went to the Met and took pictures at the bottom floor before the race and then when our time was about to arrive we got in line. The entire team was together one after the other and that was really cool. I am glad that they do that because it is nice to see everyone as we are awaiting the pain! As my teammate ahead of me went off and I was waiting for the volunteer as he looked at his watch counting off the 10 seconds.. my heart was racing… and I was ready to race!

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Smiling before the pain comes!

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He gave me the sign and I was off. I felt good hammering up the stairs one at at time and only using the railings to help me turn to get to the next flight. What I did was I would grab onto the railing of the flight ahead of me when I got close and pulled myself around and up. It really helped make the turns shorter and propel me those first few steps of that flight. One thing that confused me for a bit was that I thought I remembered during the training run that there were only 4 parking floors.. these were marked P1, P2 etc. Well there were actually six (and then it simply started 7, 8 etc.) and for some reason that kind of threw me off mentally for a second but I immediately ignored it (as it didn’t have any impact anyway). I looked down at my Garmin that was timing the race when I reached the top of the 6 floor and it said 25 seconds! Ummmm.. I think I went out a bit fast.. but I just kind of kept up 90% of that pace until floor 13 for whatever reason (adrenaline probably) and that is the floor when I started to quickly climb instead of run. I also used the railings more at this point. When I was passing someone I would use the inside railing to help pull me up while kicking my legs and when the stairwell was open I would do a double arm technique using both railings. This worked well and definitely helped. Apparently the top tower runners all have slightly different ways to use the railings.

One thing I noticed at this point is that I didn’t look at the floor markers much. I don’t know if it was that I was turning so fast that I didn’t have time or that I didn’t really want to see them 🙂 When I got to the 19th floor where you turn to the right and run to the next stairwell, my legs had no idea how to run! I actually found it quite entertaining! It was more of a side to side hop while still going somewhat forward. That many stairs climbed that fast made my legs think they were supposed to still be climbing and that short hallway wasn’t enough time to get them to remember how to run again. I don’t actually remember much from floors 20 to about 32 (I didn’t even remember much of those floors immediately when I was done) but I do remember that I was giving it everything I had to keep moving up and forward. When I got to floor 34 there was a woman that was climbing and she said to the volunteers that were at that floor “This is where I usually want to stop” and I knew what she meant for sure but I wouldn’t allow myself to. I finished up and was so excited because based off of my watch I had beaten my goal of 8:15. I turned and threw up a double fist pump to the photographer and thought I was done and had made it… but somebody yelled “Keep going!” and I was stunned (and also was really out of it generally from the first 40 floors) and just took off down the hall (after a short break before he said something) and yelled out something like “To where? To where?” I just really wanted to be finished at that point. Well I made it past the timing chip receptor and then stopped to get some water.

Wow was I beat up! What 8 minutes can do to you! Everything from my feet up to my lower back was pulsating wildly from the effort. And I almost immediately had the “Anaerobic Cough”. A couple of years ago when I PR’d in the 800m at the track, I described how I was feeling to the winner and he said “Oh yeah.. you just have the 800m flu!” Yeah that is what it feels like for about 15 minutes. When you exert that much anaerobic effort, your lungs and heart work so hard that you feel sick and are seriously coughing. It really clears the lungs! Also my chest kind of hurt and my theory is that your lungs open up so much that they actually sort of make your ribs sore (but that is just my theory). Well we waited until everyone from our team arrived and we all talked about how we didn’t feel “normal” 🙂 but we got better and took a finishing picture. I finished in 7:39 and was really happy with that and got me in the top 9% of all climbers. I know I had left it all down there (you usually say out there.. but in this case I left it down those steps) and was satisfied.

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But to be honest I was more excited for everyone else on my team! They did so great and everyone had exceeded their expectations. It was awesome to be a part of that. I was so proud of everyone and it was so fun to be a part of the team during the training and then at the top of the Met!! They all seemed really excited to have completed such a cool feat.

Then celebrating at the after party!

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I am most definitely going to do this again next year and actually enjoyed it so much that I am thinking about possibly doing the Empire State Run Up in New York! Would be a fun thing and I could make a vacation out of it.

Cheers!

Chris

** A special thanks to Alex Paz Photography for the use of his photos **

 

4 thoughts on “My Fight for Air Stair Climbing Race Report

  1. Dave Gratz

    Great read Chris! Great pictures too. Thanks for documenting the day. “Anaerobic Cough”…so that’s what that was. I had a serious case of that when we made it to the finish line. Wasn’t sure if I would ever stop coughing. Running stairs sure is a great workout, unlike anything at the gym. Cheers to fitness!

    Reply
    1. Chris M Post author

      Thanks Dave! Glad you enjoyed it. You did phenomenal!
      Yeah pretty much everybody had it. Some had thought there was something weird in the air in the stairwell but that was not it. I experience the same thing every time I race a 2 mile distance or less (especially a mile or under)… your lungs are just worked in a way that makes them kind of revolt against you!
      I agree it really is a great workout. I feel and see the difference and we only trained for a month.
      Think what shape we will be in by the end of the summer if we keep it up!

      Reply
  2. Lisa

    Great post, Chris! I really enjoyed the climb and am so glad I did it! I think you’re onto something about the lungs opening up during the race — I couldn’t stop coughing for 3 days after the climb. It really cleared out my lungs! Pretty ironic that a climb benefiting the American Lung Association made me sound like a 2-pack-a-day smoker, but it was worth it!

    Reply
    1. Chris M Post author

      Glad you liked it Lisa.
      It was quite the adventure and you did great!
      Ha! That is really funny.. yeah we did something to benefit them that made us sound like we needed them.
      That’s funny.

      Reply

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